New Learning Strategies for Generation X
Generation X workers resent the labels that have been used to describe them: slackers, arrogant, disloyal, having short attention spans. In fact, these descriptions are less likely to reflect the behaviors of individuals in Generation X than the perceptions of managers who are not attuned to new ways of learning. This Digest investigates ways in which the learning characteristics of the young adults classified as Generation X reflect the need for the new teaching and learning strategies promoted by cognitive scientists, such as learning in context, cooperative learning, and real-world application of knowledge.
The Life Experience Gap
The gap between Generation X and earlier generations represents much more than age and technological differences. It reflects the effects of a changing society on a generation. Young adults born between 1961 and 1981 have radically different life experiences than those in generations before them.
In their youth, many Generation Xers were "latchkey kids"--children who saw both of their parents working and/or furthering their education. Many of them were raised in single parent homes, the children of divorced parents. They grew up with "fast" food; "remote control" entertainment; and "quick response" devices such as automatic teller machines and microwave ovens, all of which provided instant gratification.
As young adults, Generation Xers find themselves facing limited economic prospects and a society different from any preceeding them. The previous generation saw rapid economic growth and expanding opportunities. Generation Xers see corporate downsizing and layoffs, limited opportunities for career positions, and an economically troubled society with soaring national debt and a bankrupt social security system (Hornblower 1997). Although these life experiences are not exclusive to the "X" Generation (nor are they common to all persons in this age group), they arereflective the current state of society and have implications for the way people learn.
Ways of Learning
Life experiences shape the way people learn. The following characteristics, which have been attributed to Generation Xers, offer insight into new ways of learning and highlight the need for new approaches to teaching:
Having grown up with both parents working/furthering their education, Xers are used to getting things done on their own. Hence, they tend to be independent problem solvers and self-starters. They want support and feedback, but they don't want to be controlled.
Because many of them grew up with computers, Generation Xers are technologically literate. They are familiar with computer technology and prefer the quick access of Internet, CD-ROMs, and the World Wide Web as their sources for locating information.
Conditioned to expect immediate gratification, Generation Xers are responsive. They crave stimulation and expect immediate answers and feedback.